“Where Is Society Going?

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – June 11, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 33:1-12; Matthew 9:9-13

    Not too long ago, Lois and I were having dinner after church at the North Rock Restaurant.  One of the staff members, Tony, was engaging us in conversation. He really enjoys talking to customers as people quickly learn. No matter what the topic, Tony will have some thoughts about it.

    While we were talking, a song came over the restaurant's sound system that took me back to my teenage years.  We began talking about the memories that come to mind when we hear those oldies but goodies.  We wondered if fifty years from now today's teenagers will have the same response to their music as we do to ours.

    Tony asked about our church.  I mentioned our small attendance.  And he commented that his attendance was equally small on Sundays at the restaurant.  Then he added, "People used to come here and enjoy an eating experience.  Today, they sit at the table and stare at their cell phones even after their food has been served."  He asked, "What is so important that it cannot wait until after they eat their dinner?" 

    We laughed at the reality of how our lives are constantly being impacted by distractions that appear to demand our immediate attention.  Our discussion may not have led us to any profound conclusions.  No doubt our parents were asking the same questions about our music, our values and our goals in life. 

    Keeping a peaceful and a highly energized positive outlook on our life-experiences does not come easily for most of us, particularly at the accelerated pace of today's events that tend to be presented in a manner that evokes our anxieties and fear.   

    Today's Gospel lesson from Matthew described the time when Jesus and his disciples were invited to have a meal at Matthew's home.  Since the host was a tax collector by trade, he undoubtedly invited numerous colleagues to attend the meal as well. 

    When visiting teachers came to the homes of high profile personalities, it was a social occasion. Every available person in the community could come, eat and experience a question and answer period with the visiting rabbi.

    Matthew wrote, "Many tax collectors and other outcasts came and joined everyone at the table. Seeing this, some of the attending Pharisees asked the disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with such people?"  The disciples did not have an immediate answer.  Overhearing the question, Jesus answered, "People who are well do not need a doctor." (Matthew 9:12)

    Jesus followed up his comment by asking the Pharisees to explain the meaning of the words that were spoken by one of Israel's prophets. This prophet was actually quoting God:

I have sent my prophets to you with this one message:  'What I want from you is constant love and not your animal sacrifices.'  I would rather that people accept my guidance and follow it rather than burning animals to honor to me. (Hosea 6:5f)

    The people that came to Matthew's home were a composite of individuals that could easily make up a similar gathering in our society.  The people living in Jesus' day had to make the same choices just as we have to make.  During our lives, we have to live and adjust to circumstances that present themselves.  We do not have control over many of life's events, but we can control our responses.

      Today, our society lives with instant knowledge of events happening all over the world. This is new to our generation. If gun shots are fired in any nation, those shots are instantly heard around the world.  Every news agency wants to be first with the story so they interrupt their broadcasts with "Breaking News." News reporters are instantly dispatched to the site for on-the-spot coverage and the story lingers on our airwaves for three or four days until we are weary of hearing about it.  This has become the new normal. 

    While reading the Washington Post several weeks ago, I came upon an article that described what is happening in the public junior and senior high schools in Washington, D.C. A high percentage of teachers are quitting their jobs after giving very short notice.  Administrators have found themselves scrambling to cover the classes with substitutes and volunteer parents.  Numerous schools were experiencing a turnover rate as high as forty percent of their teachers.

    There are numerous reasons for the departure of these teachers.  Many students who could not read or write, do simple division and multiplication math problems have been advanced to higher grade levels.  Teachers could not maintain order in their classrooms. Students were often defiant, threatening and violently opinionated.  The parents of students who want to learn have enrolled their children in magnet or parochial schools.  

    If we thought about it, we could develop a list of problems like this while adding toxic political confrontations, suicide bombers, the rogue leader who wants his nation to become a nuclear power, the increasing opioid prescription drug addiction among adults, the rampant increases in diabetes and the small number of beds in our new hospital.  The list of social issues that need long-term solutions is nearly endless.  

    When media outlets feed us daily stories like this, the resulting cloud of negativity can blind us to what school systems are doing to better equip their students for life and what countless people are accomplishing to bring solutions to what troubles most of us.  We really have to pick and choose from the menu of events that are daily paraded in front of us. 

    Two years ago, a couple was visiting Centenary from the States.  Lois and I offered to take them home after the service so they would not have to take a taxi.  Their bed and breakfast was near the Reef's Resort so we stopped there for dinner. 

    As we were wandering through the enormous maze of food offered by the Reef's sumptuous brunch buffet, the woman said to me, "Oh, I would love to pig-out on this food but I can't eat it any more.  I have learned that my fat cells also love it."  We came to the section of the buffet that featured shrimp, clams, lobster claws, and calamari.  She commented, "Here is another one of my former weaknesses.  My intolerance for many forms of seafood will not allow me to eat it anymore without my paying a biological price later on in my day."

    After we said our good-byes, I thought about how she had navigated through the various tables of a vast assortment of tempting foods. Living is like going to a large buffet where we have to choose what to eat and what we need to leave on the serving tables. 

    As we are evolving into more mature adults, we are making small choices all along the way. The world continues to go on as it always has since the beginning of creation. Our responsibility is to make the choices that produce a life that is meaningful, purposeful and worthwhile to us.  All of us are doing just that.  We are the only ones that have both hands on the steering wheels of our vehicles.

    We thoroughly understand that we live in a world where some of us follow the path of least resistance while others among us are very intentional in our choices just like the woman who chose what she needed to eat. What separates people who choose wisely from those who choose from a need for instant gratification?

    When I was a little boy, what fascinated me far more than many of my toys were magnets.  My imagination was fueled by the invisible force that mysteriously attracts and repels other magnets.  What was it that caused the needle in my compass to point to the north?  We can hardly imagine what this discovery accomplished for navigating on land and sea.  Magnetic energy is invisible yet the evidence of its existence is clearly there.

     Spirit is another mysterious energy that dwells within us. Interestingly enough, when finely tuned, our spirits have the same properties as magnets.  There was something about Jesus that attracted people from all walks of life to dine with him at Matthew's table. Jesus felt at home and comfortable with everyone.  His love of people attracted others. The spirit of the Pharisees, however, developed energy that actually repelled people to the point where some of these others were labeled as outcasts.

    It just may be that societies are not designed to go anywhere in particular.  In every generation, our societies have provided us with an environment where we make choices that become the building blocks for who we are choosing to become.  In this sense, all societies provide people with the same opportunities. 

    Since each of us is the chief architect of our own lives, we will always encounter people that are clearly beyond where we are emotionally and spiritually. We will also encounter people who have reached a comfortable plateau where they are choosing to stay. 

    People who have learned to sow seeds of love, compassion and kindness in the gardens of everyone often carry themselves with a lot of magnetic enthusiasm.  The word enthusiasm comes from a Greek word meaning ­being filled with God. Those who sow bountifully will also reap bountifully. The more risks we take, the more varied adventures and opportunities will come into our path.  

    When we arrive at this point in our lives, our orientation toward life dramatically changes. (John 13:35) We quickly learn that we would always be welcomed and needed in every society that exists.  Societies are never in short supply of opinionated people. What all societies need are people who accept everyone just as they find them.

    We have no need to judge others. Others do that all by themselves and they do it with surgical precision.  All that we need to do is show up in people's lives in the same way that Jesus did when he was at the table with everyone from Pharisees to outcasts. Let us strive to become magnets that attract others to a flow of energy that is creative and healing just as Jesus asked us to do. (Matthew 28:19)



What a comfort it is, O God, to know that you are always giving us opportunities to grow.  Yet our expressions of love are often mixed with personal needs that can prevent us from seeing opportunities. You have given us our wonderful world and have set us free to enjoy it.  Jesus taught us to share our love while we still cling to our need for justice. We are humbled when we realize that Jesus saved the world by forgiving every form of injustice.  Teach us how to live with the understanding that truth never needs defending.    Amen.



Merciful God, once again we have gathered in remembrance of our Sabbath day that you directed us to observe with rest.  We know that we need to slow our pace but we make excuses for why we find that hard to do. We confess that we never know what may happen to us as a result of our coming to church today.  There are times when the familiar patterns of worship are pierced by a new understanding that comes like a shaft of light that tells us, "this lesson is for me." 

We thank you for what it means to be a part of our church family.  Because of our community of faith, we have learned to laugh a little more.  There are moments when we do not take ourselves or our problems with the urgency that we once did.   When we see the trusting, nurturing spirits of others whose loses and reversals in life have often been much greater than our own, our spirits are mysteriously healed by their presence.  When we bring our aloneness into a community of friends, our spirits experience a harmony we often cannot easily define nor find elsewhere.

We thank you for the responsibility that is now ours to pass on the torch that the Master has given to us.  We are always teaching others who we are by what we do, what we say and how we think.  We thank you for the mixture of personalities that have helped to light our path even when they were unaware of doing so.  We pray these thoughts of gratitude and thanksgiving through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray. . .